Idaho lawmakers may seek to strip health departments of ability to close schools during emergencies

Some Idaho lawmakers are considering stripping local health officials’ ability to close public schools or mandate facial coverings in the event of an emergency – like a pandemic.

Under current state law, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and local public health districts can order schools to close, if needed to prevent the spread of contagious or infectious diseases.

However, the joint Education Working Group on Monday recommended a draft bill that would remove that authority — meaning only political entities like local school boards, the State Board of Education or the governor could order school closures.

House members on the working group voted 11-3 to recommend that the draft bill be considered during the upcoming Aug. 24th special session. The Senate members approved the motion on a 5-4 vote.

The group also voted 13-1 and 7-2, respectively, to advance a second draft bill giving the State Board of Education the exclusive authority to close college and university facilities or campuses in response to a public health emergency. Community college boards of trustees would have similar authority for their institutions.

Idaho Governor Brad Little will determine exactly what issues or bills will be discussed during the upcoming special session. He is expected to announce the agenda next week. (Lewiston Tribune)